Monday, March 3, 2014

"The Post-Academic Privilege Divide"

Hello, everyone!

Piggybacking on my recent post about what constitutes a "good" postacademic job - as well as the related posts from Kathleen and Lauren - the three of us have put our heads together to write a post at How to Leave Academia that we are pretty proud of.

If you have a few minutes, head on over and let us know what you think.

More soon!


  1. I'm not writing my comment on the How to Leave Academia site because I can't be anonymous there, and I don't feel comfortable at this point being identifiable.

    While I do think you have a point that the post-academic sphere is missing conversations from a huge subset of post-academics, I don't agree with labeling it as privileged vs. non-privileged. For one, by doing so, you're using an extremely liberal type of discourse that excludes those post-academics, including myself, who have more conservative values. (I'm an Objectivist). At least from reading your previous blog entries and How to Leave Academia, I don't think your intent is to exclude others. I think your intent is to make a space that is comfortable for all post-academics seeking help, including those who might have different political values than you.

    While I agree that some post-academics might have a better financial situation based on circumstances outside of their control, there are also choices that we make that affect our financial situations. For instance, I grew up in a lower middle class family, yet I didn't leave grad school with any debt. (Jen from PhD to Life also had a similar situation to me). I made certain choices so I wouldn't be in that situation, i.e. I refused to attend a graduate program where I would have to take on debt. I made a similar situation when I chose which undergrad to attend. At the same time, I understand that other post-academics had good reasons to take on debt. But does this mean that they are less privileged than me?

    I guess I'm just saying that it's one thing to say that we need to be more open about what it means to be "successful" after leaving academia, and another to divide the post-academic world into privileged vs. non-privileged. I don't think complaining about this divide is going to get anywhere - it just leads to contention. Rather, why not contribute positively? Convince more post-academics who have "less glamorous" careers to talk about their experiences. Post those on How to Leave Academia. Make updates on Versatile PhD when these posts are there. I think it's better to make the post-academic space larger rather than dividing it.

    1. "I think it's better to make the post-academic space larger rather than dividing it."

      This is most certainly our goal with our website and with this blog - to encourage *others* to increase the range of stories that are told in the postacademic blogosphere. (As you can see if you've spent much time perusing our archives here of there, I rarely host those types of articles. Our website is more focused on concrete advice than on "day in the life" types of articles.)

      I'm sorry that you object to the use of the word privileged, but we were not intending to make any political statements with that term. I would kindly suggest that as a conservative, you may be reading into that term things that were not intended. We are not talking about who was born rich and who was not ... we are simply distinguishing between people who have been able to leave school with little to no debt and possibly a savings account v. those who did not. We are talking about one's financial situation *when leaving grad school or academia*, regardless of how they got there or what their originating circumstances are. So it's true that students from wealthy families would be included in the "privileged" group...but it also includes students from poor families who were able to save money and give themselves a cushion while in school (like yourself). So as to your question about whether you would be considered privileged? If you don't have debt upon leaving and you have some savings, then yes. Yes you are privileged. Please don't let your ideological bias about the word "privilege" blind you to that.

      More importantly, though - I really, strongly object to your insinuation that people who leave grad school with debt made bad decisions (which is how I read your comments about making "certain choices" when you were in grad school). If my comments about privilege are "excluding" conservative writers, then your attempt to distinguish between postacs who made good v. bad choices is a discourse that I, as a liberal writer, do not appreciate.

      Moral distinctions about who made the right (financial) choices or who did not while in grad school are pointless if you are REALLY interested in helping all postacs, as we are. It doesn't matter if someone scrimped and saved through grad school but then had a health crisis that put them in debt, or if they are in bad financial straits because they engaged in endless shopping sprees throughout school. If they are struggling now, they are struggling...and we at HTLA are here to help ALL of those postacs, not to draw lines between who has legitimate financial need and who does not.

      This blog (and HTLA at large) is not interested in drawing those types of distinctions. We are about helping people moving forward in their postac journeys from wherever they are now, NOT about chastising people for making choices in the past that we disapprove of.

      Further comments that attempt to distinguish between postacs who "made certain choices" and those who did not will be deleted. Unless you possess a time machine with which you can help people can go back in time and make better choices, comments like that serve no purpose other than to make certain readers feel bad, and will not be tolerated.

      Thanks for reading.

  2. To the above commenter, I think we've all done our best with the information we were given about academia at the time we decided to sign up. And now look: we're a massive group trying to get out of a massive hole we somehow wound up in. The group would be smaller if it was really about individuals not making the right choices. But given the size of our group, something structurally has happened that put a lot of people in vulnerable positions while enriching others. Rising costs and stagnant wages squeezed the Middle Class in the last decade, so paying back loans has become harder and harder with each passing year--even though everyone advising us said it was a good idea to take them out. Maybe it was an OK idea at the time. But now, no. Adjuncting has become way more the norm and TT contracts are becoming the way of yesterday, all while costs are skyrocketing. We can't absorb it all. Just look at rents in all major cities. They are outpacing wages everywhere. They go up at least every six months. And did you know that the cost of raising a child has risen 40% just in the last 10 years? That's what happened to all of us, not our "bad choices". If you look at the PhD Debt Survey you'll see that basic expenses while completing their programs, overpriced tuition rates, and a real lack of good, high-paying jobs to pay back those loans and become independent financially are what's keeping PhDs in horrifying debt loads and in undignified existences. That's systemic, not personal. And not all schools are cheap, you are correct. But why is overpriced tuition at some schools our fault?? Why weren't grad students advised that higher-priced institutions will put them in debt forever with very unstable job prospects? Because no one in academia will admit that that's the reality their system is creating, and nobody would do it if they gave out that advice. Even all this being the case, basic costs are what they are and nobody, including grad students, can get by without paying them. Even the cheapest work-araounds can still put people into real financial turmoil and big debt when their stipends don't cover it. Just one healthcare bill will do a broken leg and an overpriced hospital visit our fault too?

    Also, JC, I wanted to say thanks for pointing this privilege divide out, it's really a well written essay and very awesome of you to be looking out for us. But don't be so hard on yourselves: all the best free career advice in the world won't change the fact that 24 million good jobs have been lost and not regained in this Recession, 24 million remain unemployed, and there are hundreds in line for every post-ac job real world job out there. I can't beat those numbers, and that's why I've been underemployed for nearly 5 years now. It's not you, friend. You and all the post-ac bloggers out there have done nothing but try to help us all and for that you deserve to be commended. Hell a lot of this is not even academia. It's the Recession--the atrocious economy that was created by greedy, corrupt behavior on Wall Street, and the fact that our government only consults billionaires now when creating America's laws. Only the rich matter in our new "democracy", we the New Poor are lied about, ignored and even monetized through compounded interest on student loans we can't pay back. And because of all this we are becoming increasingly entrenched in our vulnerable positions...

    Thanks for all you've done and for being the conscious person you are JC. Don't take it all this on yourselves. It's important that blame be placed squarely where it belongs: WALL STREET.